During Kentucky's 93-61 exhibition victory over Northwood Thursday night, freshman Willie Cauley-Stein saw himself on the court with Nerlens Noel and Kyle Wiltjer. He found Coach John Calipari using tall timber times three puzzling.
"We never worked on it," Cauley-Stein said of a front line measuring a collective 20 feet, eight inches. "It was kind of weird. At first, (the thought was) 'What is he doing?'"
Calipari experimented with 12 different lineups, by one media member's count. Using only seven players through the first 34 minutes-plus, UK went small, medium and extra large with a collection of players co-existing under game conditions for the first time.
When asked if this freshman-dependent team marked a start from scratch, Calipari said, "This is really scratch. This is scratch-scratch."
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Calipari (facetiously?) suggested that — pardon the redundancy — rabid Kentucky fans had already deciphered the scoring efficiency of each combination of players.
"Did anybody look at the points per lineup? ..." Calipari asked in his post-game news conference. "Our fans have already done it. You guys are only the media. Our fans have already broken it down. You guys don't do crap."
Even with so much to learn about a practically brand-new Kentucky team, fans did not fill Rupp Arena.
An announced crowd of 20,073 saw the kind of up-and-down execution that would be expected at this ultra-early stage.
Two sequences early in the second half proved that point. In Northwood's second possession, Noel, the air apparent to Anthony Davis, came over on help defense and blocked a shot out of bounds. He brought a hand to his chest that suggested don't do that again. The play captured exactly how Calipari said Wednesday that he preferred shot blocking done: Not on your man, although Noel, who had four of UK's 11 blocks, did that, too. Better to block shots as a help defender, Calipari said.
But on the next trip downcourt, Northwood's Ra'shad James drove by another freshman, Archie Goodwin. With help defense arriving too late to matter, James dunked.
A few minutes later, freshman Alex Poythress had a pass slip through his hands. That got him a seat on the bench.
But no damage was done as Goodwin and transfer Julius Mays hustled to block back-to-back Northwood attempts to convert the turnover into points.
"We were better than I thought we'd be," Calipari said before adding, "We're a ways away from where need to be."
Mays' three-pointer with six seconds left in the first half, which had the look of a set play, gave Kentucky a 40-25 halftime lead.
That marked UK's largest lead of the half.
Kentucky's defense, which had been "awful" according to Calipari, might have caused a ripple of concern when Northwood made its first two shots.
Then the Seahawks made only four of their next 21 as UK took control.
Goodwin scored 14 of his team-high 22 points in the first half. Noel finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Ryan Harrow, who enjoyed a 12-inch height advantage on Northwood point guard Tyrone Davis, added 15 points.
Given the early stage of the season, no surprise that it was not seamless. For instance, Goodwin took a seat after a turnover led to a Northwood basket.
Two offensive fouls — a shove in the low post and a charge — put Alex Poythress on the bench with 12:44 left.
Calipari and UK players had been talking about experimentation.
"We do this in practice," Harrow said of the many lineup changes. "We actually do four- and five-minute increments where we set up different combinations. And we know what we need to do with that team."
Calipari pondered a catch-up lineup that might include Harrow, Mays, Goodwin, Poythress and Noel.
"Where we have to go and be more active," the UK coach said. "If Alex doesn't play with more energy, like the 'energy bunny,' then how can you have him in a catch-up lineup?"
Such a catch-up lineup would not surprise the players.
"Yeah, that's us," Harrow said. "He knows that we can get out on the break fast and we can pretty much defend. He says Archie, Alex and Nerlens can switch players on defense. So he knows that we can all defend and we can all get to the basket and make an opportunity to score."
Calipari suggested that he might continue experimenting when UK plays its second exhibition Monday against Transylvania. Maybe Jon Hood, who didn't get into this game until only 3:35 remained, would play much more against Transy and might settle into, say, a four-minute relief role in each half this season.
"If a kid's ego about starting is the biggest thing, maybe he shouldn't have come to school here," Calipari said.